Once the location of a pecan grove plantation on the southbank of the Ribault River, Lake Forest Hills was developed by Charles E. Commander & Company around 1950. Overlooking marsh along a river named after French captain Jean Ribault, the first European to undertake a detailed exploration of the St. Johns River in the 16th century, the subdivision was marketed to World War II veterans as a new mid-century community north of the city. The cash requirement for purchasing a house was $50, with home prices starting at $7,300.
Prior to its time as a pecan grove, the waterfront property had once been owned by Lemuel “Lem” Turner, born in 1834 at the old Turner family homestead east of Capper Road. The road now known as Lem Turner Road was known as “Turner Ferry Road” at the turn of the century. It included a bridge over the Trout River that was burned by the Union during the Civil War, leading Lem to start a ferry service. In addition, Turner was active in the lumber industry, owning and operating a shingle mill. However, his most lucrative business was buying and selling land, including the property that would eventually become Lake Forest Hills.
Historic aerials illustrating the mid-century development of Lake Forest Hills. (The University of Florida Map & Imagery Library)
Rapid growth led to the 1957 opening of Jean Ribault High School. During the 1960s, Lake Forest Hills experienced white flight as the neighborhood’s Ribault Scenic Drive became the top desired destination for displaced Sugar Hill residents following that neighborhood’s urban renewal for what is now UF Health Jacksonville. Once called a new, sweeter Sugar Hill, residents relocating to Ribault Scenic Drive included the then president of Edward Waters College, the mayor’s assistant, Offshore Power Systems’ administrator, post office workers, teachers, principals and doctors.
For example, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew George used the money provided for their two Illinois Street properties to pay for their new residence on Ribault Scenic Drive in 1972. Mr. George was employed as a post office worker. Mrs. George had served as the dean of girls at Stanton and James Weldon Johnson schools for 35 years.
Largely developed on former Ribault River marshland, Ribault Scenic Drive was among the areas of the city most impacted by Hurricane Irma in 2017. One of many established Jacksonville communities susceptible to flooding and sea level rise, the neighborhood is still known for its winding roads, hills and diverse collection of ranch style architecture.